What Can Children Learn From Sid Meier’s Colonization?

Civilization IV: Colonization

I’ve recently discovered that my children are learning about native Americans and the impact the European settlers made in North America (apparently they’re not covering Central and South America).

As we enjoyed an episode of Horrible Histories about The Mayflower, it dawned on me that there was a way to bring the events even more to life, add more context, and give them a tiny flavour of the challenges faced not just by the settlers but the people who occupied the land already.

Sid Meier’s Colonization!

Specifically, we used the Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization game as it was easier to install through Steam, and my son doesn’t like pixelly graphics. Released in 2008, the game is heavily based on the original while running on the Civilization IV engine (although it is not an expansion and runs indpendently of Civ IV).

While it may differ to the 1994 game (which I owned on Amiga), Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization remains a good introduction to the world of settling, diplomacy, resource management, trading, and winning a revolutionary war while trying not to hurt the First Peoples of the land.

Civilization IV: Colonization

Just a quick game

We started by setting up a quick game, choosing France. My children are twins, both 10, so chose “Twinkles” for the Viceroy name, based on the Samuel de Champlain profile.

In all we played around ten turns in the first session, which involved establishing a colony, exploring, and bringing colonists from Europe. There was some interaction with two aboriginal tribes, and the Spanish. One of the things that tends to be overlooked when teaching this topic from a UK point of view is the “land grab” aspect of the colonization process. The more land overseas, the bigger the empire of the comparatively tiny European nations. Proximity to Russia and the Ottoman Empire may well have played a part in these aspirations.

After setting the game up, both kids played separately, at least a further ten turns each.

What Bruce learned from Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization

After another 14 turns in the game, I asked my on what he felt he had learned from the time by playing Colonization. He recalled:

  • Natives traded with the newcomers
  • Later, the colony armies betreayed the Native Americans and took over their lands
  • Lots of silver and tobacco and fur, and deer, and crabs were mined and farmed in the New World
  • Colonies sent people to learn from the natives

This is good stuff!

Erin-rose’s Colonization experience

A further 10 individual turns were completed by my daughter. Checking later, she also told me what she had learned:

  • That colonists traded with the Native Americans
  • Colonists took the land
  • Taxes were high
  • Colonies helped each other
  • Native Americans taught colonists important skills

This is pretty much as I’d hoped. A basic understanding of some potentially complicated events and situations is a desirable outcome, providing the groundwork for further learning on the topic in future.

Civilization IV: Colonization

Can you rely on historical games for factual precision?

Easy answer: no. Here’s a quick example: both versions of Colonization start in 1492, the year Columbus discovered the Caribbean. It was of course decades before colonization began properly. Other games have similar issues – the Total War series, for example, not to mention Call of Duty: WW2.

But history isn’t all about the dates. The people and their experiences are just as important. These games – and the two versions of Colonization – successfully present a context for the established facts to sit against. With this context, the history stops being names in a book and becomes people with families, escaping persecution, looking for a place in the world that they can call home.

The eternal motivation of humankind.